Paulina Chávez just landed her first major acting gig with Netflix's The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia, but as she says, "the sky is not even the limit."
The rising actress couldn't be more excited for fans to watch the upcoming comedy, in which she stars as the titular character, a 15-year-old rocket scientist working at her dream job at a prestigious company. Chávez immediately connected with Ashley's ambition, but it's Eva Longoria who has inspired her to really pursue her dreams.
"Eva Longoria is such an inspiration to me," the 17-year-old actress gushed to ET.
"I look up to her," she explained. "She does everything -- she directs, she produces and she acts."
Chávez was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in San Antonio, just hours away from Longoria's native Corpus Christi. The young actress has admired Longoria for her drive and work ethic in all aspects of her career, and got the opportunity to come face-to-face with her idol as Longoria directed several episodes of Ashley Garcia.
"I was just so privileged to work with her and learn from her. I'm super honored," Chávez said. "And also, what she does with her foundation. She has a foundation which helps Latinas break the cycle of poverty by introducing them to career paths and really educating them. I really hope to have a foundation somewhat like that, and focus on Latinos, which would be really, really cool."
Providing opportunities for other Latinx actors is important to Chávez, whether it's following in Longoria's charitable footsteps or allowing younger generations to see themselves represented onscreen. The actress related to Ashley's "overprotective mom," describing both her and her character's mothers as "loving Latinas who are amazing."
The character of Ashley, meanwhile, was something Chávez noted she hadn't seen before. "You don't really see a Latina lead who is super intelligent. It's super cool and refreshing," she said.
"It is an honor [to bring her to screen], and I really hope when kids watch this that they know that the sky is not even the limit," she shared. "I know people say that sky is the limit, but you can go bigger than that. You can do whatever you put your mind to. You just gotta work hard and dedicate yourself."
Seeing Longoria in the director's chair has inspired Chávez to become a director herself. "I'm doing that right now," she proudly announced. "I'm not directing, but I'm learning from a fantastic director too, Jody Margolin Hahn. She directed the first three episodes of Ashley Garcia... and right now I'm shadowing her."
And though she certainly takes her career seriously, it isn't all business all the time for Chávez. Acting on Ashley Garcia has allowed her to enjoy her teenage years, right alongside her character.
"I was homeschooled in 8th grade, so I didn't get the high school experience. Same with Ashley -- she worked hard and she got her PhD. Now that she's achieved that, she can be a teenager," Chávez said.
So, when the camera's not rolling, the actress and her co-stars -- including Reed Horstmann, Conor Husting, Bella Podaras and Jencarlos Canela -- find ways to have fun.
"JenCarlos is like the older brother I never had. He's wonderful. People would say he's more like my uncle, but I think we have a brother-sister relationship. We joke around with each other," Chávez shared of the actor, who plays Ashley's uncle on the show. "The last couple weeks on set, we had a tickle war, and we were constantly tickling each other when we were off camera and we weren't shooting. It was hilarious."
The actress hopes the fun she had making Ashley Garcia translates to fans. "I want [audiences] to know to have fun, and not overthink about stuff. If you like a boy, I think you should just go up and tell him. Life is too short to doubt yourself," she said.
"And I really hope with this show brings laughter," Chávez added. "I hope it motivates kids and inspires them to do more."
The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia launches Feb. 17 on Netflix.